Babyface – Tender Lover | Return To The Classics

Tender Lover was released on July 30, 1989 and it was the second studio album released by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.  Some would argue this was his debut project due to the fact his first studio album, Lovers, was released in 1986 while he was only taking a break from his group, The Deele.  Nonetheless, a changing of the guard was taking place with the sound of black/urban music. The R&B genre was being infused with a new sound called ‘New Jack Swing’ developed and introduced by a young producer named Teddy Riley and Babyface himself.

Edmonds had been a part of the music scene as a background musician beginning in the late 1970s for the now defunct Chi Sound music label. It was during this time where he collaborated with funk performer Bootsy Collins, who dubbed him with the nickname “Babyface” while he was still a teen. He also played in the groups Manchild where he was a guitarist and as a keyboardist in the R&B group The Deele. His first major credit as a songwriter came when he wrote the legendary hit “Slow-Jam” for R&B group Midnight Star 1983.

After leaving the Chi Sound record label, Babyface signed a record deal with the eponymous label Sound of Los Angeles Records (SOLAR) in 1981 and he would stay there as a recording artist and producer until 1989 when he co-founded LaFace records with longtime collaborator L.A. Reid.

Tender Lover was his last album released under SOLAR and it showcased not only Babyface’s incredible production prowess, but also his vocal capabilities as a formidable solo act. He served as executive producer as well as serving as the lead guitarist and keyboardist on every single track. Kevin ‘Kayo’ Roberson, L.A. Reid and Darryl Simmons served as musical contributors by playing percussion, drums and bass guitar. Two classic R&B groups in their own right, After 7 and Troop contributed backing vocals for every song on this album.

His production talents alongside his former band mates from R&B groups, Manchild (Daryl Simmons)The Deele (Kevin ‘Kayo’ Roberson, L.A. Reid) really provided a concrete foundation in the creation of Tender Lover as a groundbreaking record for not only Babyface’s career, but for the genre of R&B music. The tracks spoke volumes on the musicianship put into every single song on the offering. He was already a household name in R&B circles with the many ballads he co-wrote with his former groups, but with this new formula of combining elements of jazz, funk, rap, and R&B to create beats using the SP-1200 and Roland 808 drum machines helped to unleash a new direction for urban contemporary music .

The first single released from Tender Lover was “It’s No Crime” and it was well received by R&B and pop audiences. It reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and it was an up-tempo track featuring the innovative New Jack Swing production style. The second single “Whip Appeal” saw Babyface return to his balladeer roots and it peaked to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, which gave credence to his abilities as a singer/songwriter who could effectively showcase his variety.   This album went on to peak at #14 on the Billboard 200 album charts and #1 on the Billboard R&B charts. It sold two million copies to establish Babyface as a force to be reckoned with in the genre for more years to come.

As an 8 year old, this album was my first introduction to R&B music. I grew up in a household where gospel music was the only genre playing during the week and on the weekends. When my mother brought home this cassette, I remember her talking about Babyface as a new artist she liked. Naturally, I took an interest and as soon I heard “It’s No Crime” I must have played it ten times in a row. I couldn’t stop dancing in my living room because the music was so infectious.

The next songs I listened to were the title track “Tender Lover” and “My Kinda Girl” because those titles intrigued me. I saw why my mother had become a fan of his and I instantly became one too.

On the B side of the cassette tape were “Whip Appeal”, “Soon As I Get Home” and “Where Will You Go.” These three songs still hold a special place in my memory because of how elegant the sound was and how much passion were in the lyrics.

My three favorite records from this album remain “My Kinda Girl”, “It’s No Crime” and “Where Will You Go.” The lyrics and overall musicianship on these three records create a nostalgic feeling in my soul because these songs provided the fodder for the affinity I have for R&B music to this very day.

Tender Lover in the minds of many R&B enthusiasts is a classic record from a timeless musician.

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